Tips for Long Distance Electric Bike Trekking and Touring

Court

Administrator
Staff member
#1
Hi guys! I'm moving some content off of the main site and into the most relevant categories of the forum. This post was originally made on December 22nd 2016:

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In 2016 Sushil Reddy took on the ultimate challenge, riding an electric bike more than 4,600 miles (7,500 Kilometers) across nine states in India! He had to deal with a wide range of street conditions, different languages and finding enough electricity along the way to keep his ebike charged… Actually, the last challenge was solved through the use of a trailer covered with flexible solar panels that offered ongoing solar charging! Sushil has written a book about the trip which you can get on Amazon here and some of the proceeds are going to help a local school update facilities and install solar themselves… Sushil agreed to answer a few questions about the ride that might benefit others planning to do a long distance multi-state or multi-country ebike trek like his. My questions and his answers follow:
  • Q. What an undertaking Sushil! Sounds like a once in a lifetime adventure and I’m sure a lot of planning went in. What are three things that could have been easily overlooked or forgotten but really came in handy or were crucial for your success?
    A. It was an experience of a lifetime, absolutely. I was planning this ride from 3 months prior to the actual ride start. The idea of the ride was primarily to raise awareness about solar energy in India by interacting with people along the route. Hence I chose to ride a solar powered electric bike to demonstrate a real-life application of solar energy. Riding in the summer was a challenge, especially in Rajasthan where the temperatures were more than 45 degree celsius (~113 fahrenheit). I had a team of 3 people – Rajendra Bhaskar, Krunal Tailor, Himanshu Singh with me in a support vehicle which came in handy on many occasions. The ride needed a lot of dedication and patience from all 4 of us to execute the route. So the 3 things which were very crucial for my ride were – 1. Hydration during the ride – Very crucial for summer rides to keep oneself hydrated, drinking sips of water and juices frequently to avoid cramps and weakness. I was riding in peak summer and we carried a lot of hydration in the support vehicle. 2. A good quality electric bicycle – You do not want frequent breakdowns during the ride. Hence a lot of time and effort was given to having the good quality ebike and the trailer for solar panels. Hulikkal Electro India Pvt. Ltd. makes good quality ebikes and they converted one of their models to electric for me. 3. A great team with mental fitness – A long distance journey is made easier with a great team. This was crucial because we shared the responsibilities of planning the onward journey. The right people made the journey that much easier.
  • Q. Which electric bicycle did you choose to ride for this tour and how did it hold up… honestly. What broke and how did you deal with it on the road? It sounds like some of the roads you traveled were pretty rough… What are some other bikes that you’d recommend for an adventure like this or some features you’d view as absolutely necessary to make it.
    A. I used an electric bicycle sponsored by Hulikkal India Pvt. Ltd. It was a custom frame MTB with a retrofitted ebike kit of 250 Watt rear Hub Motor and a 48V lithium Ion Battery pack. Mr. Faisal Thakur of Pro9 Bicycle Studio in Mumbai customised the rear trailer with 240 watts of solar panels which was attached to the ebike. India has tough roads – very gravely, dusty and with potholes. the MTB stood up pretty well. There were a couple of punctures throughout the journey. We had spare tubes and tyres in the support vehicle so we fixed it on the road ourselves. Apart from this, no issues at all. Also in the hilly regions of Himachal Pradesh, we detached the solar trailer and carried with with the support vehicle to make climbing with the bike easier. This was essential since the roads were narrow and unsafe to ride with the trailer attached to the ebike. 250 Watts is the maximum motor power allowed in India without any license or registration for the vehicle. Hence I used a 250 watts motor ebike. It worked perfectly with the solar charging, I pedaled 50% of the time and the rest was taken by the motor. Carrying the solar panels along with the ebike increases the weight but reduces the effort especially for flats and small gradients. This is recommended for long distance touring in sunny regions. I would recommend going for slightly more than 250 watts (motor size) for long distance ebike touring since it will reduce the effort considerably and go well on climbs too. If you are doing a self-supporting journey, you can travel further with higher wattage motor since you will be carrying luggage too. I suggest that you plan your ride well in advance, take route reviews, have some contacts on the route and prepare mentally, so that you can withstand the rigor and challenge of riding so far and so long. I have not tried any other ebike brand so it is hard to say about my recommendations for other ebikes. But features for long distance travel I would say – 1. Light Weight Bike- since you are touring, you want to keep the weight as low as possible reducing the effort. 2. For roads in India – MTB is recommended since the road quality is generally average and only MTB tyres and frames can hold up to any kind of terrain. I am sure in the west, people use all kinds of tyres since the roads are much better. 3. For long distance touring, it is very essential to have basic spares (a couple of tubes, tyres) and a tool kit with basic things like allen key set and a puncture kit 4. Safety – a rear view mirror in India is a must, Helmet, front and rear lights is a must for long distance touring 5. Finally pre-ride preparation of the route, basic physical and mental fitness is necessary since long distance is about endurance.
  • Q. Solar charging is such a liberating concept… riding off the grid and powering yourself with the sun in a way that doesn’t adversely impact the environment or future generations through pollution. What solar panels did you use, how did you hook them up for charging and how did you bring them along? Any tips on how others can set something like this up?
    A. I used 4 flexible solar panels imported by Taiwan connected in parallel (total 240 watts and 72 volts of output). The solar panels were flexible ones (4×4 inches) brought from a vendor in Taiwan via an Indian supplier Gogoa1 here. There were 4 panels of 60 watts each connected in parallel, so I had an output of 240 Watts, 70 volts and 3 amps. This was connected to the Lithium Ion Battery of 48 volts and 6 Ah via an MPPT charge controller (which is basically a circuit to regulate the voltage). I carried 2 similar batteries with me for the journey. I was using one while riding which was being charged on the go while being connected to the solar panels. One of them was in the support vehicle as a spare battery. The weight of these panels along with the trailer was approximately 10-15 kgs. The solar panels were attached to the ebike battery via a self made MPPT charge controller to regulate the voltage output from the panels and avoid battery damage. It is easy to do this. I have attached the image of the ebike with the solar trailer. I can help design the MPPT circuit if anyone wants it. People can get in touch with me.
  • Q. Despite having electric assist on your adventure, this was still a major physical undertaking… What stretches and exercises did you use to stay comfortable and avoid hurting yourself? Is there a limit to how far you can ride in one day?
    A. I am not an athlete. I am a normal guy without any great physique. My target was 100 kms a day which is quite less since we were spending time talking to people and educating them about solar energy everyday. The basic arms and legs stretch in the morning everyday helped. Good padded shorts helped to stay on the saddle for long hours everyday. Moreover, mental preparation is more important than a physical one.
  • Q. Safety is important when you’re riding a bicycle, it doesn’t matter if you’re just circling the block or passing through a busy downtown area. This becomes even more important when you’re in a new unfamiliar landscape… What tactics did you use to stay safe? Did you only ride during daylight? What accessories did you get and use that made the journey safer?
    A. A helmet is a must. India is not much cycling friendly. The traffic sense is missing among vehicles which makes it difficult for a cyclist to share the road with other vehicles, especially on highways. I have had some close shaves where trucks overtook me within inches of brushing past me. And, most importantly, I rode only during the day when there is enough light, so that we also got help with the solar power. On a couple of occasions I rode in the wee hours of the morning to avoid the afternoon heat. It was a safe ride overall. We took enough precautions while riding making sure that we respect the motorists, pedestrians and the basic road rules.
  • Q. Thanks for your time answering these questions, helping others. I’m excited to check out your book on Amazon and want to open up the final question for any closing thoughts you have about this adventure and the future of e-bikes for long distance transportation.
    A. Thank you so much for this opportunity and spreading the word about the ebook and my journey. Solar energy is the way of the future and sustainability should be a norm. Our mission is to spread as much awareness about it and I thank EBR for being a part of this cause too. I think e-bikes and electric transportation is going to be the future of sustainable transportation, be it short or long distance. More and more people should adopt this technology and lifestyle change for a better future. Thank you again :)
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Court

Administrator
Staff member
#2
Following are some of the original comments that were made on that post:

NIRMALA
What a great story. I have ridden in a lot of taxis in India, and that is scary enough with the unpredictable traffic, poor roads, animals, and the huge variety of vehicles! To ride a bike that far on the roads of India took a special kind of toughness.

COURT
Yeah, just looking at the map makes me feel overwhelmed… and then you add in the challenging and ever-changing conditions of rural India and it becomes exponentially more exciting XD

P.P.MURUKESAN
Very intresting and informative, I had also made a solar cycle using 50w panels.
 

Mr. Coffee

Well-Known Member
#3
  • I'd check out the Bicycle Touring Pro channel on Youtube. He has lots of good tips and has many videos where he walks through exactly what he carries on a bicycle tour. Plus he has traveled to many cool places and can give you inspiration on where you'd like to go.
  • Go light. Especially if you are just starting out. In general if you are traveling in North America or Europe during Spring, Summer, or Fall you should be able to carry everything you need in rear panniers and a handlebar bag. If you need more room than that you are probably bringing something you will regret out on the road.
  • Plan your trip. But also plan to ditch your plan.
  • Charge your batteries opportunistically. Try to plan in long breaks during the day when you can recharge your batteries. Picnic shelters at county and state parks and coin-op laundries are my favorite places to charge during the day.
  • Start your trip with your bike in perfect condition. Take the bike to the shop and get it tuned and get everything that is broken fixed before your trip. Put in new tires and tubes. Then go over the bike again before you leave.
  • Try not to be overambitious. Especially for the first few days, plan on a fairly leisurely pace and try to gradually work up to longer distances. I personally try to have my first day be around 30 miles, and the next couple of days be around 40 miles, and on the following days 60+ mile days will almost feel effortless.
  • After your trip, take some time to reflect on what worked and what didn't work on your trip and what you would do differently on the next trip.
 

Bruce Arnold

Well-Known Member
#4
The Sun Trip 2018 is a solar-powered ebike rally from Lyons, France to Guangzhou, China -- around 12,000 km depending on the route taken; participants are not required to follow the same route.

It started in late June. One contestant, Raf Van Hulle of the Netherlands, has already arrived in Guangzhou. He is the creator of an interesting solar bike trailer that helps provide power for the bike and may -- I'm not clear about this -- have a self-propelling feature so that the trailer is contributing to its own locomotion. It's called The Solar Wind.

50 contestants originally registered. Some have dropped out, some have burned out, but quite a few are continuing.

My favorite, a young man from the UK named Jack Butler, is currently in sixth place despite having to take time out occasionally for repairs. For instance, the most recent episode was when winds upwards of 40 mph in the Gobi desert knocked his bike over and made it impossible to ride. (40 mph, as any North Carolinian knows, is tropical storm force wind.) According to the map, Jack has currently exceeded 9500 km in 50 days and 6 hours, as of this writing. He has posted messages on Facebook and videos on YouTube, worth checking out.

Events like this help to push the technology forward. Both the contestants who succeed and those who don't will contribute to the development of ebiking, showing what works and what doesn't. I won't be surprised to see some of these innovations become standard commercial fare as ebikes continue their fantastic growth.
 

Mr. Coffee

Well-Known Member
#6
A couple more cool bicycle touring videos...


Note these aren't specific to e-bikes but there is nothing in them that doesn't apply one hundred percent to going on an adventure on your e-bike.
 

Mr. Coffee

Well-Known Member
#7
Stuff you ought to bring that won't be in most standard gear lists:

  • The smallest locking-blade knife you can find. The one referred to here has some bonus tools but the real deal-closer is the bottle opener. Other companies have made or are now making nice and tiny locking-blade knives as well.
  • Multi-port USB charger. Chances are you'll be carrying a phone, a blinky or two, maybe a GoPro, maybe a GPS. One of these lets you charge multiple devices. Since outlets are often at a premium in campgrounds and hotel rooms these can be lifesavers, well tripsavers.
  • Small mesh laundry bag. This is useful for laundry, but also really, really shines when you need to carry wet gear (a tent, raingear, soaking wet socks) and don't want to put them inside your waterproof panniers with all of the remaining dry clothing.
  • Small battery phone recharger. For me, these work better than the USB charging port on the bike and even the smallest one always gets me through a day.
  • Shop towels. Not a whole roll, silly. But taking along a half-dozen or so will make your life easier. They are useful for cleaning your bike, eating a messy burrito, when you lubricate your chain, or even washing your face. The blue folding towels at most gas stations can be used to resupply you on the road.
  • Ear plugs. To get you that decent night's sleep in a noisy campground or motel.
 
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Mr. Coffee

Well-Known Member
#8
As some of you no doubt know, I just completed a moderately lengthy bike tour from Olympia, Washington to near Crescent City, California. I thought I'd share a couple of things that I learned during that trip so that others who go on an e-bike tour don't have to:

  • Spare tubes, part 1. Get a feel for the availability of tire tubes in the sizes you'll need. On a long trip you will inevitably have flat tires and it can be quite a problem if your tube size isn't widely available.
  • Spare tubes, part 2. I like the pre-slimed tubes, but they aren't the best choice for a long-distance bike tour. This is largely because they aren't really amenable to being patched (the slime interferes with the patch adhesive and keeps the patch from bonding well to the tube).
  • Gravel riding. If you are riding extensively on gravel roads expect to get significantly less range. I am considering some extensive gravel-oriented tours in my future and I suspect that I will need to carry extra batteries to make them possible.
  • Compact towns. Keep in mind that most North American towns aren't really set up for cyclists or pedestrians. If that great hotel you want to stay at is six miles from anyplace to eat or a store that is an extra dozen miles, minimum, on your day's ride. Try to choose places to stay where stores you'll need and restaurants you'd like to eat at are within a short distance of where you are staying.
  • Similarly, if you are camping try to find the closest grocery store to your planned campsite to pick up dinner and breakfast. But keep in mind that Google maps &c can be out-of-date and especially small country stores can be closed.
  • Stopping to eat. Try to stop to eat where there are other cyclists and also try to park and lock your bike where you can look directly at it while you are eating. This helps keep your bike and all your gear secure. This may seem obvious but you'd be amazed at how many restaurants this is impossible to accomplish.
  • Great business idea: there needs to be a tripadvisor for bike tourists.
 
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Saratoga Dave

Well-Known Member
#9
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes!

I learned about #3 transiting the Erie Canal last fall, a great solo trip. A hell of a lot of that 400 miles is on stone dust or packed dirt single track stuff. Slows you down a little - who cares - but really does a number on the range, and the EC route is mostly flat. Add a mountain or two and it would make for a bad surprise if you didn’t expect it.

Also a must have - a fiberfix spoke and probably a chain tool and a master link if you’re traveling on a mid drive. On my prior hub drive bike, I could have used the throttle to get to civilization if the chain went away, not so much with a mid.

All that said, these are great for touring though, aren’t they? Trying to figure out the next trip, maybe something down south during the winter.
 

Ravi Kempaiah

Well-Known Member
#10
As some of you no doubt know, I just completed a moderately lengthy bike tour from Olympia, Washington to near Crescent City, California. I thought I'd share a couple of things that I learned during that trip so that others who go on an e-bike tour don't have to:

  • Spare tubes, part 1. Get a feel for the availability of tire tubes in the sizes you'll need. On a long trip you will inevitably have flat tires and it can be quite a problem if your tube size isn't widely available.
  • Spare tubes, part 2. I like the pre-slimed tubes, but they aren't the best choice for a long-distance bike tour. This is largely because they aren't really amenable to being patched (the slime interferes with the patch adhesive and keeps the patch from bonding well to the tube).

Have you thought about tubeless setup?

Jack Butler who just completed the Suntrip 2018 (@Bruce Arnold just mentioned him above) did not experience a single flat in 12,000 km journey from France to China.
He also used Rolhoff hub on his bike. https://electrek.co/2018/09/27/solar-powered-electric-bicycle-journey/
Tubeless, if setup properly, would be the ultimate. Large/deep gashes could still lead to flat but for minor stuff, tubeless is the way to go.
 

Mr. Coffee

Well-Known Member
#11
Have you thought about tubeless setup?.
I have considered tubeless, and will probably go tubeless on my touring rig at some point.

One of the problems I will have with tubeless is that tubeless tire systems fare poorly when left unridden for months. Given my home environment cycling is contraindicated from mid-November until early March (but the cross-country skiing is great). Although I do some bike-skiing (but that is more of a springtime activity anyway) my bicycles are largely unridden for several months.

Another thing about tubeless that I find off-putting is that you still need spare tubes and tire boots if you get a really large gash.
 

Ravi Kempaiah

Well-Known Member
#12
thing about tubeless that I find off-putting is that you still need spare tubes and tire boots if you get a really large gash.
This made me laugh..!
That's life... it's like saying.. In spite of being a good man, helping others, I find it off-putting that I will die one day ;).. [we all are..]

If it so happens that you encounter an extremely sharp object that simply cut your tire and you're far away from any human connection...
well--- tube or no tube, doesn't matter. That will be our "Cast away" experience....

Sorry to be philosophical but long tours on bikes are perfect for some solitude and introspection.
 

Mr. Coffee

Well-Known Member
#13
This made me laugh..!
That's life... it's like saying.. In spite of being a good man, helping others, I find it off-putting that I will die one day ;).. [we all are..]

If it so happens that you encounter an extremely sharp object that simply cut your tire and you're far away from any human connection...
well--- tube or no tube, doesn't matter. That will be our "Cast away" experience....

Sorry to be philosophical but long tours on bikes are perfect for some solitude and introspection.
It is more to me the absurdity of labeling something "x-less" and then saying, "oh by the way you'll still need an x."

I've always been amazed how even a small mishap in a pretty densely populated location can turn a walk in the park into a Jack London story or a Robert Service poem. One time hiking in the Pyrenees a missed junction, my own impatience, and a change in the weather (to what could best be described as a "downpour amidst howling fog") produced a few hours of misadventure. But at no point in all that drama was I more than ten minutes from a road and an easy hour's walk to a town with a dry hotel, good wine, and an enormous fireplace.
 
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Mr. Coffee

Well-Known Member
#15
Of course, given that I just finished one tour I have been thinking about others.

I am considering this stretch from Halfway, OR to Joseph, OR as the centerpiece of said tour (perhaps from Bend, OR to Cour d'Alene, ID). However, that section contains no conceivable support, almost 72 miles, 6350 feet of elevation gain, and much of that distance is unpaved. With that amount of elevation gain I very much doubt that two Bosch Powerpack 500s will do the job, and I'd likely need at least one and possibly two additional power packs.

Added this video showing the route:

 
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